Chicu vs the others: Who has (not) brought European money into Moldova?
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on July 22.
Before adjourning for summer recess last week, the Moldovan Parliament hosted a boisterous debate on a no-confidence motion against the Chicu Cabinet brought by the opposition parties PDA and PAS. Well aware of the motion’s imminent defeat, prime Ion Chicu decided the best defense is a good offense, reckoning he would be getting the best value of his speech time if he threw sarcastic jabs at his attackers. In short, he focused on making a point that the precedent government led by PAS and PDA did a much poorer job than his cabinet. And, for that matter, than the Filip Government, of which Chicu was a member (Dec.2018-Jun.2019).
One of the most curious assessments made by PM Chicu was about the number of conditions each cabinet fulfilled to get €100 million in macrofinancial assistance (MFA) from the EU. “In total, of all the conditionalities [sic!] for the three installments, the Filip Government implemented 21, the current government 13, and the other government [that of Maia Sandu] did exactly zero,” calculated the prime minister.
Ion Chicu’s math, however, is nothing short of political manipulation. Let’s see what’s wrong with these numbers and which cabinet cooperated better with the European Union.
This interpretation sounds like someone held a contest for who scores the most EU conditions and all the three cabinets participated simultaneously to find out who is the most competent.
In reality however, this comparison omits the fact that the three cabinets governed successively, for different durations, and inherited both the achievements and failures of their predecessors. Reform processes often continue even after a government is out, and policy work seldom starts from scratch. So many of the conditions laid down in the MFA Memorandum of Understanding with the European Union have been implemented across cabinet changes, as a result of teamwork, if you will.
Over the span of 32 months since the MFA MoU was signed, the Filip Cabinet governed for 19 months, Sandu for 5 and Chicu for 8. Measuring their performance with the same ruler is unfair at best.
Perhaps more importantly, the executive branch of the government is not the only actor involved in implementing the MFA MoU conditions. A significant part of the terms agreed upon by Moldova and the EU involve legislative amendments. Which is the lawmakers’ territory. PM Chicu does seem to have an inclination for ignoring Parliament’s role, as demonstrated by his recent actions to adopt legislation by extraordinary procedure which bypasses the legislature. In short, it’s wrong and misleading to attribute all the merit for implementing the MoU to the executive alone.
It seems that in this numbers game proposed by Ion Chicu the actions required by the EU are regarded as checkboxes to be ticked rather than reforms that need to be implemented in earnest. But even if we accept this game for a moment, it will be worth noting that over the span of 32 months since the MFA MoU was signed, the Filip Cabinet governed for 19 months, Sandu for 5 and Chicu for 8. Measuring their performance with the same ruler is unfair at best.
According to Chicu, Moldova’s failure to qualify for the third and final MFA installment of €40 million is also on Sandu, despite her holding the office for the shortest period since the MoU signing. The Filip Government had nearly fourfold more time to deliver on the conditions and yet he is absolved of any responsibility for that failure.
What’s also puzzling is that Chicu’s tally includes 8 requirements put forward by the EU in February 2020, three months after Sandu’s departure. According to the prime minister’s logic, the Sandu Government had to compete for fulfilling conditions that were not even available yet.
But perhaps a better measurement than the number of conditions fulfilled would be the number of installments effectively awarded – this will better reflect the European Union’s recognition of the progress made by Moldova in carrying out the respective reforms. The score here between Chicu and Sandu is 1:1 (the first installment arrived in 2019 and the second just recently), with Filip left behind despite the 19 months head start.
How conditions are fulfilled
As mentioned above, an administration always inherits the work of the previous one, with the good and the bad. A telling example is the fifth condition listed in the MFA MoU, which concerns the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. First, in 2017, the Filip Government proposed, and Parliament adopted an organic law in this regard (an organic law sits above an ordinary law in the Moldovan hierarchy of legal acts). Then, in September 2019, Olesea Stamate, justice minister in the Sandu Cabinet, proposed a bill regulating the procedure and the sanctioning mechanism in this field (i.e. an ordinary law elaborating the initial organic law).
The Sandu Cabinet was taken down before the bill could be adopted, but, in February 2020, the European Union put forward a number of additional conditions, including one that required the adoption of such a specific law. The Chicu Cabinet complied and submitted to Parliament a bill that clearly built on the draft initially proposed by Stamate. Later, Prime Minister Chicu lied that work on the bill “had not even begun” when his cabinet was installed in November. Meanwhile, Olesea Stamate’s draft is still available on the State Chancellery’s website, dated 11 September 2019.
Another example is the Law on State and Municipal Corporations, which was supposed to introduce mandatory external audits for this type of companies. The Filip Government proposed a law that introduced such audits only for 3% of the public companies. In July 2019, PAS lawmakers Dumitru Alaiba and Sergiu Litvinenco submitted an amendment to this law. The amendment was passed in the final reading only in February 2020 – coincidentally or not – when the EU put forward the above-mentioned set of additional conditions.
Both examples serve to illustrate how Parliament’s role is equally important, how continuity matters even when administrations change, and ultimately how Ion Chicu’s math is wrong and misleading.
What the Europeans say
According to Ion Chicu, the European Union’s conditions were fulfilled only by the Filip Government, of which he was a member, and his Government, which is endorsed in Parliament by a coalition that includes Filip’s Democratic Party. But maybe we should look at the Europeans for an evaluation.
Despite the credits attributed by Ion Chicu, the Filip Cabinet was unable to receive a single euro cent from the European MFA. Quite the opposite, in less than a year from the MoU signing, the European Union froze all major funding for Moldova. The first warning signals came in February 2018, in the form of the EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on Moldova. But the authorities in Chisinau didn’t seem to care. The adoption of a controversial mixed electoral system and the cancelation of the Chisinau elections were the final straw that broke the European assistance. In a piece on those developments, we recalled that in addition to the 28 concrete actions laid down in the Memorandum of Understanding on the EU’s Macrofinancial Assistance, there were also a number of political preconditions, such as respect for the rule of law, functional democratic mechanisms, political pluralism and human rights.
The Filip Government failed to meet those preconditions and Ion Chicu, a member of that team, is surely aware of it.
The first tranche only arrived in October 2019, during Maia Sandu’s tenure. This is how the Europeans commented on the disbursement: “Following the change of government in June 2019, the Moldovan authorities have engaged in a significant and substantial structural reform process to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption. The Commission and the European External Action Service now consider that the political preconditions for proceeding with the disbursement of the first instalment of the MFA programme have been fulfilled.”
That statement made it quite clear that the money became available only after the Sandu Government replaced the Filip Government. It also underlines the importance of those political preconditions which Ion Chicu ignored in his numbers game.
In October 2019, the EU offered another package of budget assistance, commending again the reform processes started by the Sandu Government.
By contrast, some three months into his premiership, Ion Chicu, instead of a second installment, received a set of additional conditions. When the Europeans ask you to extend a moratorium on the “citizenship for investment” scheme, launch consultations on the justice reform, evaluate the Broadcasting Council and recover the money stolen in the infamous $1 billion bank fraud, they don’t do it so that you could add more items onto your scoresheet, but because they see issues or risks.
By the way, the February conditions also included the adoption of the NGO Law, which PM Chicu and the Socialists opposed until the last minute.
Moreover, some of the additional conditions required the continuation of initiatives started by the PAS-PDA Government, such as the money laundering sanctions and the auditing of public organizations mentioned earlier. In a way, the EU cautioned the Chicu Government not to abandon the reforms started by the previous cabinet.
When taking all the credit for himself and his former boss in securing the EU assistance, Prime Minister Ion Chicu is manipulating numbers and facts. In a useless exercise of rewriting recent history, the prime minister’s sarcastic discourse is trying to make us forget why we had been denied EU assistance – we’re talking about the degradation of democratic mechanism and civil rights during the Plahotniuc regime – and why it has been resumed – credible signals of reform after June 2019.
The EU does not simply count the boxes ticked on a checklist. It looks at how reforms are implemented in actuality and what the outcomes are, and when it sees satisfactory assurances of delivery, the EU offers grants and other forms of assistance. The government, for its part, shouldn’t regard reform-conditioned assistance programs as cash cows, and instead realize the need for reform as such.
Ion Chicu’s math is merely political rhetoric aimed at faulting the opposition and aggrandizing his and his allies’ achievements. It’s quite puzzling why a self-described technocrat indulges in political disputes, manipulating facts and figures even, to criticize politicians he is not theoretically a rival of.
This time around, however, Ion Chicu chose the wrong battleground – for all its problems, cooperation with the EU was not among the weaknesses of the Sandu Cabinet, and Ion Chicu’s numbers game does not stand up to closer scrutiny.
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Discursul lui Ion Chicu de la tribuna Parlamentului, youtube.com ↩︎
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